Thursday, September 15, 2016

F*k College!

I have emailed the newspaper editor the following ...

In a presidential campaign season that has mostly been a farcical political theatre at best, and one that seems to be on track for a terribly tragic ending on November 8th, serious discussions of policies have been sorely lacking. Every once in a while, policy statements are uttered, but they are never engagingly discussed and debated by the wannabes nor their surrogates.

One of those statements was this: “College is crucial, but a four-year degree should not be the only path to a good job.”

If only we had at least talked about that!

Over the past few years, the country’s political leaders and educators alike have been manically promoting—practically mandating—four years of college, for free, for everybody. But why this college conscription?

For productive employment, a four-year college is certainly not the only pathway. As my neighbors often like to remind me, their successful small business is not a product of any four-year degree. Among the owners and the employees, only one has a four-year degree. And, most employees earn more than what many recent college diploma holders can only dream of.

Perhaps the spectacular entertainment provided by NCAA football and basketball is what draws most to college. If the taxpayer-subsidized NCAA sports did not exist, most teens would flee from college, and from courses like the ones I teach, and towards the trades.

Even the very notion of a four-year college is an anachronism. More than ever before, the young will have to be lifelong learners if they want to succeed in the world of employment. They might have to regularly reinvent themselves in new careers, some of which are yet to be created. They will have to keep up with new ideas and technology—if they cannot do it on their own, then they will need formal training. This is applicable to those going to the trades as well.

The unhealthy fixation on four years of college triggers even more unhealthy policy approaches. We actively encourage high school students to begin to earn college credits even as they are worrying about their first pimples. We convey to students a horribly distorted idea that they need to be done with education at the earliest so that they can move on to the “real world.” We develop measures on how successful colleges are in moving students along in the pipeline—we critically examine the rates at which students graduate within four, five, or six years and longer.

I would rather have colleges and universities emphasizing to students the importance of lifelong learning. Taking six or seven years should be lauded, as long as students are simultaneously gaining valuable real world experiences. Perhaps we ought to even encourage the less interested students to take a break after a year or two in college, in order to experience the world—whether it is as baristas or as legal-aides or as farm workers—and then return to learn more, which will be an example of the continuous lifelong education that will characterize their lives.

We need to talk about this, instead of merely keeping up with the latest dramatic act in the political theatre.

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